Critical Miss; How One Blogger Got It Wrong

I hate to see anyone pour gas on a fire.

When that "anyone" happens to be a fellow Chicago Now blogger and a self-proclaimed urban cycling expert, well, that really burns me up!

When I read the headline "A Critical Mass... uh, mess" on the front page of the Chicago Tribune's Perspective section today (Sunday, October 2, 2011), I was expecting yet another anti-bike rant from yet another "get off my road" motorist.  After reading through several paragraphs of the author whining about motorists being inconvenienced and cyclists flouting the law, I was stunned to discover that the author was a cycling advocate.

At that moment, I decided that I owed him the opportunity to at least explain his viewpoint.  I wasn't expecting to be convinced, but I am open-minded and willing to acknowledge valid arguments in opposition of my own.

Scott Rowan didn't convince me of anything.

His fear that the Critical Mass cyclists are "accomplishing anything other than driving a huge wedge between motorists and cyclists" was simply not supported by his arguments.  He didn't use a single example from his extensive year-long research into the topic.  It seems he referenced that information merely to establish his own credibility with the reader.

Impatient, inconsiderate, selfish, and dangerous motorists aren't created while being inconvenienced by a rolling bicycle demonstration, a gay pride parade, a Toys For Tots Harley drive, or a funeral procession for that matter.  These motorists - who are most lethal to pedestrians and cyclists - wreak just as much havoc with every other road user because of their personal attitudes and emboldened indestructibility behind the wheel of their two-ton assault vehicles.  Don't blame bad cyclists for creating bad motorists - bad motorists created themselves.

Ironically, espousing this opinion on an editorial page in a major newspaper will do more to harden the opinions of anti-bicycling motorists than educate them on our right to share the road.  Hardly a wise or responsible tactic for a cycling advocate to take...

I really don't want to comment on Scott's interpretation of the First Amendment and the cost to the City to protect this right for the Critical Mass cyclists.  "Sure, Critical Mass has the right to assemble - but where does it say that they are allowed to make that assembly mobile?"   He goes on to qualify it as a parade (which is a mobile assembly by definition), then denigrates the participants and spectators.  Nothing like pandering to those with intolerant viewpoints...

Reading this editorial, I can't help but get the feeling that "The Urban Cyclist" pretty much detests other urban cyclists.  Referring to the monthly Critical Mass ride as "state sponsored terrorism" and "predetermined, rolling riots" shows his lack of acceptance for an entire group of fellow urban riders.  Ironically, many participating in the ride may actually like some of Scott's ideas.  He's certainly not going to win any new fans after lumping all those that don't act exactly as he does into the category of terrorist, rioter, lawbreaker, anarchist, and selfish hipster.

Scott Rowan's editorial does absolutely nothing to advocate for the rights of cyclists.  It does nothing but perpetuate bad stereotypes and widen the divide between cyclists and motorists.  It even appeals to the prejudices of  the intolerant among us who refuse to respect the rights of those they disagree with.  And he calls himself a cycling advocate?

The writer in me was patiently waiting for Scott to take his ginned up rage and turn it around on the reader.  I was on the edge of my seat waiting for him to say "I have a solution that will benefit both the inconvenienced motorist and the urban cyclist who wants safer streets."  When that moment finally came, I was stunned by his suggestion.

The Urban Cyclist wants corporations to sponsor bicycle only streets.

A separate but equal policy that Corporate America can endorse.  Civil unions for cyclists, marriage for motorists.  You are free to bike, but only on those roads that the free market wants you to.  You are no longer entitled to ride the streets your tax dollars pay for.  You are a nuisance to the fossil-fuel economy - stay out of its way.

I don't even know where to start with my criticism of this proposal.

For starters, is he actually expecting corporations to willingly contribute money to municipalities to fund separate infrastructure for bicycles?  He has this relationship ass-backward.  Corporations want to be paid by government to build infrastructure.  Corporations fight paying taxes to support the infrastructure they already rely on to conduct business in America.  Corporations won't even part with cash on hand to hire American workers.  Why would a corporation want to sponsor a ribbon of road that brings them no direct benefit?

Cyclists - apparently himself excluded - are an independent lot that skews more anti-corporation than the average taxpayer.  It takes an individual to decide that he or she doesn't buy into the car-centric, materialistic culture espoused by corporate advertising.  Why would that attitude suddenly change in favor of a sponsor?  I would think cyclists would be even more skeptical of the motives of any company seeking to sponsor a bike lane.

Then there's the idea of a separate infrastructure for cyclists.

The core of cycling advocacy is safe routes for cyclists.  Shared lanes.  Dedicated lanes.  Protected lanes.  Bike paths.  Complete streets that are safe for motorists, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.  Access to all areas by all forms of transportation.  Education of motorists on their responsibility to respect the rights of all other users.

If our democracy has taught us anything, it's that there is no equality through separation.  It always creates separate classes and harbors prejudices and enables discrimination.  It didn't work for freed slaves.  It's not working for gay couples.  It won't work for cyclists.  We're all equal.  We deserve to be treated equally.

Infrastructure and services for the public good should not be tainted by corporate interests.  Let corporations put ads on buses and their names on stadiums to subsidize user costs, but don't rely on them to build the infrastructure our changing needs demand.  Students of history need only look to Los Angeles for an example of corporations building the transportation network to see how well that worked.

This suburban cyclist stands with all the Critical Mass riders and the rights they uphold for all cyclists.

Keep on riding and be safe!

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  • Some may not want their tax money being wasted on a select few, usually rich, mostly white, elitists on their little bikes, either. Especially in a day when we have no tax money to waste on such silly enterprises for a select few.

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    Where to start... Wasting taxpayer dollars on providing police protection to a group exercising their right to assemble? Allowing cyclists on the road, in general? The stereotypes that you and Rowan insist on using to conveniently characterize cyclists?

    A little history lesson is in order. Ironically, it was white elitist cyclists in the 1880's and 90's that banded together and lobbied for paved roads. Their efforts literally paved the wave for the acceptance of the automobile and the creation of the infrastructure we now enjoy.

    If you check the rules of the road, bicyclists have a right to ride on any road where it is not posted otherwise (like the expressway). Motorists are required, by law, to allow three feet of clearance when safely passing a cyclist. Motorists are responsible for respecting the rights of cyclists and pedestrians. Bikes belong on the road, so you might as well get used to sharing with them.

    Contrary to popular belief, cyclists pay taxes. Property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, and news flash - most also drive cars and pay fuel taxes. Considering that a 25 pound bike with a 200 pound rider does absolutely no damage to a road surface, it would be in the taxpayer's best interest to have more bikes and less cars driving on them. Not to mention a bike's zero emissions for not burning any gasoline.

    Unlike religions and political parties, bikes aren't exclusive. Anyone that can afford a bike at a garage sale can own and ride one. Children, teens, women, men, people of all ages and all races can be cyclists. It's a very inclusive activity. If you choose to notice only "elitist white males" or "scruffy scofflaws", you're not being fair to the immigrant who rides his bike to work, the mom taking her kid for a ride in the park, or the teen biking to school or a part-time job.

    As a commenter to Rowan's article on the Trib website pointed out - Critical Mass is just a bike ride. There's no official organizer or political cause behind it. It's just a bunch of people getting together and riding their bikes one Friday per month. You're welcome to join if you like.

    If the police choose to protect this group, it's because the police, as a necessary part of our government, believe that it is in the best interest of our society to do so. Much the same as protecting a rally by Tea Partiers or the KKK, for that matter. That's representative democracy.

    BTW, once the tax money is remitted, it's OUR tax dollars, collectively. Police, fire, streets, sanitation, water, social services, etc - they all have budgets and professionals to manage them. If you don't like their administration, contact your elected representative. Stop stereotyping, scapegoating, and blaming the people our government serves for the decisions our elected officials make - you're also one of those people...

  • In reply to Brent Cohrs:

    You really do go to absurd lengths to excuse away your desire to waste tax dollars on your little hobby, don't you? You try to equate moms "taking her kid for a ride in the park" to the campaigns for force cities to bow to bicyclists desires? Please, stop with the hyperbole. Mom's in public parks are not the problem. Money wasted on "bike lanes" and police protection for silly rides is in no way similar to moms and kids in a park.

    But, I do agree that these sort of decisions should be made within the democratic system. I exercise MY democratic vote to say that my tax $$ should not be wasted on you rich guys in your ludicrous little biking clothes and funny pointy hats so that you have someplace at my expense to ride your $5,000 bicycles.

    Oh, and it's amusing you had to equate the Tea Party and the KKK as the same. While you castigate everyone else for lashing out at your fellow rich hobbyists, you do an awful lot of lashing out and name calling of your own.

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    Promoting transportation alternatives is defending "my little hobby"? Look up the phrase "complete streets" and maybe you'll understand why access to all modes of transportation - pedestrian, bicycle, bus, and car is in everyone's best interest from relieving congestion to decreasing emissions.

    If you insist on believing that I only advocate for rich hobbyists, you haven't been reading my posts. I believe society would benefit if more people rode bicycles.

    I didn't equate the Tea Party with the KKK, you did. Every group has a right to assemble whether I agree with them or not and I'll happily defend their rights.

    Whether you elect officials who believe in bike lanes or not, bikes are still entitled to ride on the road. Designated lanes just make it safer for all users.

    The mom riding to the park, the immigrant, and all my "$5000-bike" buddies will still be riding the roads our tax dollars paid for. Please make sure to give us three feet of clearance when you pass. It's the law.

  • As much as I am for everything cyclist. I think critical mass is a joke. It has become a traveling costume party that does in face clog the streets and make people angry. It seems like that has become their goal and to be honest as a cyclist, I don't want to be lumped in with them.
    Does there need to be more rights for cyclists, heck yes. Should their be more help from the government etc. I think so.

  • In reply to David Wallach:

    Thanks for taking time to reply!

    I'm sure a lot of people in the GLBT community frown on the behavior of some at gay pride parades, too. Sometimes freedom of expression can harden the opinions of the intolerant. That's an unfortunate aspect of human nature.

    I don't think the motoring public becomes intolerant of cyclists because of some costumed or ill-behaved Critical Mass riders or everyday urban cyclists that yield at stop signs rather than stopping. I believe these types of motorists bring their own insecurities and attitudes to bear on whatever situation they find themselves in.

    Hundreds of polite cyclists riding an MS ride still won't change the attitude of someone who is running late for work or feels that bikes don't belong on roads. I've personally been threatened by unhinged motorists during organized group rides - we didn't create those monsters!

    Is there a better way to get out the "share the road" message? Dozens of not-for-profits work on this daily. Can we get the crazies to stop representing us? Ask your moderate Republican friends if they'd like to edit Tea Partier signs or put a sock in Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann's mouths...

    When I ride, I ride defensively and follow the rules of the road. I communicate my intentions. It's the best way I know to exercise my rights. If I could only remember not to flip the bird when I get squeezed off the road or honked at...

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    In reply to Brent Cohrs:

    "Is there a better way to get out the "share the road" message?" This is a great question, and one I think about often when motorists insist I, as a cyclist, should "stop riding in the middle of the lane" or "stay out of the car lanes". I would personally donate to the city to sponsor more Share the Road sings -- the ones that show a car and a bike side-by-side. I bet other cyclists would, too. More signs on the road!

  • In reply to Shirlee Berman:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Shirlee!

    Great suggestion about the signs. I wonder if the Active Transportation Alliance could help us with this.

    My desire is that every person renewing his / her driver's license must read a sheet featuring all the laws that have been added since he or she last renewed and take an open-book test on it. At the very least, people could no longer claim ignorance to any new law including the three-foot passing rule.

    Keep riding and be safe!

  • In reply to David Wallach:

    Being an avid critical mass goer myself your statement that critical mass only makes people angry is inane because you yourself probably have never gone to one. Every ride we go on i see women children men elderly cheering us on, motorists gladly honking and smiling. Not every single person on the streets is angry. a MAJORITY love to see the mass come by and welcome it. I've been going regularly for the past three months and only about 5% of the people I see are bothered.

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